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Editorial

District 11: Duane Shelton

1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.

What any elected official needs more than anything is a passion for the people and area they represent. I have that passion. I have lived In Baltimore City for over 20 years and in South Baltimore for over 10 years. My education includes a M.B.A. from Loyola College in Finance, and a B.B.A. from Loyola in Marketing. I am currently employed as a Financial Analyst with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

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2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?

The reason I want to serve on the City Council is because I love Baltimore, and we can do so much better. The complete lack of hope in some of the City's neighborhoods is heart wrenching. How can we expect to attract qualified teachers when the schools we ask them to teach in are literally falling down? How many people, given a choice would choose to raise a family in Baltimore with a crime rate and a murder rate as high as it is?

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3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you advocate for to improve public safety in the city?

While I support Mr. Bealefeld, obviously he doesn't have all the answers: just look at the Fourth of July incidents, and the murder rate and poor murder closure rate. He now has Mr. Bernstein providing more support in the courts than the police have had in a long time; but it's up to him to use the resources at hand. The officers of the Baltimore police department put their lives on the line daily, and we need to remember that and acknowledge their courage and dedication. Just recently we've seen officers killed in the line of duty, and one grievously injured in a traffic incident on 83/JFX. We need to provide them with the resources they need, and make sure that their commanders are utilizing those resources, and most important, the people under them, as effectively as possible.

The primary drivers of crime in Baltimore are drugs and the lack of opportunity. We need a broad based approach that involves improving education, offering residential drug treatment on demand, and a return to community policing.

We can improve education by offering vouchers and increasing the number of charter schools. We also need a longer school year. The current system of children taking three months off is just plain silly in this day and age. The children of Baltimore City are not needed for three months in the summer to help bring in crops.

Offering residential drug treatment on demand is far cheaper then incarceration and it offers the opportunity for rehabilitation. It has been shown time and time again to be the single most effective way to lower recidivism rates.

Lastly, we need to get the police out of their cars and back out walking the streets. In far too many neighborhoods police are viewed as an outside force. We need to develop trust between the police and the communities to encourage police and public cooperation to prevent and to solve crimes.

4. Do you support the recent reforms in the Baltimore City school system? Do you believe any changes are needed in the schools' governance structure (such as direct mayoral control or an elected school board)?

I applaud the implementation of merit based pay bonuses for teachers. We need Mayoral control and more charter schools. We also need to make sure that there are job opportunities in Baltimore for student who graduate from high school. The children in our schools are not stupid. Far too often, they drop out because they make a reasoned decision that they are wasting their time, since there will be no opportunities available to them, if they graduate, that are not available to them now.

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5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?

We spent $15 million dollars of stimulus money that was earmarked for long term infrastructure improvements on a Formula One race.

Baltimore has enough money to build a $300 million dollar convention hotel that blocks the view from Camden Yards, and loses over a million dollars a year, but it does not have the revenue to revitalize schools.

And now the taxpayers are being asked to spend $1.5 Billion on the new State Center project, when half of the office space in Downtown is vacant.

The money for construction and renovation of the school system is there, just not the will.

6. Property taxes have become a major issue in this year's election. Do you believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut? If so, by how much, and what steps would you take to keep the city's budget in balance while lowering the rate?

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If one takes a few moments to read the proposals by Stephen J.K. Walters, Ph.D., and Louis Miserendino it becomes painfully obvious the property tax rate need to be brought in line with the surrounding counties. I would cut them in half. This will expand our tax base. Our goal should be to have more people paying less.

And it's then the city's job- specifically, the Mayor and Council- to reduce the budget to meet the reduced revenues. The focus should be on reducing city spending, and watching what more money in the pockets of our citizens can do for them in these harsh economic times.

7. The city has faced large budget shortfalls in recent years. If that trend continues, what top priorities would you protect from cuts? In what areas would you pursue spending reductions?

Nothing's immune. Everybody needs to economize, and let's face it: everybody can find some savings, however tiny, somewhere. But in an enterprise as big as city government, that adds up. The people of Baltimore tighten their belts- why can't, and why shouldn't, their government too? Are there some departments, like police and fire, which will see smaller cuts? Sure, and that's as it should be. But no organization can be immune from the fiscal realities we face.

While I applaud Mayor Rawlings-Blake for her work to keep the Fourth of July fireworks going by partnering with Ports America, I am sure that there are many more opportunities like this that can be explored. I have no idea whose idea it was to commission the artist Gaia to create a print in an attempt to keep the Poe Hose open, and while this effort may not ultimately prove to be successful, that is the sort of bold thinking we need. When one looks at the cost to keep city pools open, for example, it is really not a lot of money, and I am sure that if asked the funds could be found from businesses in Baltimore.

8. Baltimore has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade. What would you do to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents?

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Reduce crime and people- and business- will return to the city; improve education and more families will choose the city; cut taxes and people and businesses will opt for Baltimore versus the surrounding jurisdictions- it's a multi-faceted problem we face, not one that some quick-fix will resolve.

Also, far too often when people speak about creating jobs they are only speaking about middle class and high tech jobs, while important, in huge sections of Baltimore there are no jobs at all. In a City that has a 50% unemployment rate among African American males; it is completely unrealistic to expect people to climb the ladder into the middle class if the ladder is missing all of the rungs at the bottom. Government can assist in the creation of entry level jobs through, targeted tax breaks and ensuring access to small business loans and microcredit.


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